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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Childhood and Society: Growing Up in an Age of Uncertainty by Nick Lee (Issues in Society: Open University Press) (PAPERBACK) What happens to childhood when the nature of adulthood becomes uncertain? What impact is globalization having on adult‑child relationships? How are we to study 'growing up' today?

Traditionally, children and adults have been treated as different kinds of person, with adults seen as complete, stable and self‑controlling, and children seen as incomplete, changeable and in need of control. This ground‑breaking book argues that in the early twenty‑first century, 'growing up' can no longer be understood as a movement toward personal completion and stability. Careers, intimate relationships, even identities, are increasingly provisional, bringing into question the division between the mature and the immature and thereby differences between adults and children.

Childhood and Society charts the emergence of the conceptual and institutional divisions between adult 'human beings' and child 'human becomings' over the course of the modern era. It then examines the contemporary economic and ideological trends that are eroding the foundations of these divisions. The consequences of this age of uncertainty are examined through an assessment of sociological theories of childhood and through a survey of children's varied positions in a globalizing and highly mediated social world. In all, this accessible text provides a clear, up‑to‑date and original insight into the sociological study of childhood for undergraduates and researchers alike. It also develops a new set of conceptual tools for studying 'growing up:


Excerpt: Humans differ from one another in numerous ways. Variations in sex, shape, size and skin colour have formed the basis of social hierarchies in many different times and places. External appearances have often been taken to say something about people's intrinsic natures. In many circumstances, being one human variant rather than another has had serious consequences for people's life chances and the degree of respect and personal dignity that they have been allowed. Chronological age is among the axes of human variability that have been linked to the social distribution of dignity and respect. Children can be marked out as a social group, distinguished by the visibility of their low chronological age. Their points of view, opinions and desires have often been ignored because their age has been taken as a sign that they are not worth listening to.

Some commentators, feeling that this treatment is unjust, have sought to break the links that have been forged between external appearances and children's intrinsic natures. In this vein, it has been argued that variations in chronological age are not nearly so important in shaping childhoods as are the attributions that societies make about children on the basis of their external appearances. Childhood on this view is `socially constructed'. One of the problems that this constructionist approach to childhood has faced is that it tends to interpret all differences between adults and children as works of imagination. Thus, when this approach meets people who think it is only right and proper that children's voices be muted, the only resource it has to convince them otherwise is to tell them that they are deluded.

The constructionist approach to childhood draws strength from a con­temporary ethical view that all humans should be treated `equally'. When translating this ethical view into theoretical and empirical study it is all too easy to try to confirm it by painting a picture of all humans, regardless of chronological age, as fundamentally the same. Awareness of human variation is sacrificed to remove the potential for unjust attributions. So the study of childhood involves a tension between recognizing human variation ‑ which carries the risk of allowing unjust attributions to be made ‑ and discounting human variation ‑ which carries the risk of overemphasizing the ability of imagination to shape the world. These tensions around the facts of human variation form the intellectual context of the book.

In Part one we ask how it is that variation in chronological age has come to form the basis of social distributions of rights, responsibilities, dignity and respect in the contemporary world. Chapters 1 and 2 offer an account of how and why the category `human' has, throughout modernity, been divided into adult `human beings' and child 'human becomings'. Chapter 3 reports on attempts that are currently being made by sociologists of child­hood to resist this common‑sense division. Whatever differences there may be between adults and children, contemporary sociologies of childhood urge that children be treated equally, at least in terms of recognizing that children have views and perspectives of their own. On this view, all hu­mans, regardless of chronological age, are and should be treated as `beings'.

In Part one, we also paint a picture of the late‑twentieth and early­twenty‑first centuries as an `age of uncertainty', arguing both that adult­hood can no longer be understood as the state of stable completion and self‑possession on which `being‑hood' once rested, and that childhood is increasingly open to ambiguity. The nature of adult `being' is becoming unclear just as the question of children's status as either `beings' or 'becomings' begins to look unanswerable. Building on this assessment of the contemporary condition of adulthood and childhood, Part two then examines a number of locations where the contemporary ambiguity of childhood is brought into sharp focus: the streets of the world's cities; the institutions of the family home and the school; and the national and global regulation of childhood. We argue that these ambiguities demand a novel response from childhood researchers ‑ to withdraw from attempts to re­solve childhood's ambiguity so that they can better study the social distri­bution and consequences of ambiguity.

Part three lays out the conceptual resources and research orientations that can help social studies of childhood become more sensitive to childhood ambiguity and less reliant on problematic notions of human `being'. It offers a new way to understand and to chart human variation. We advance the view that there are no `human beings' but that there are instead poten­tially unlimited numbers of ways of `becoming human'. The emphasis of work based on this view is placed on detecting and understanding `real stabilities' (Lee 1998a) in patterns of human becoming, rather than in de­tecting and criticizing sets of attributions about people made on the basis of their chronological age. Part three then is an attempt to turn our attention away from arguments over whether or not visible age differences should be taken as a sign of intrinsic difference, as a reliable or unreliable basis for attributions, and toward variations in ways that people are `extended' (Munro 1996) by other people, the material world and technological devices.

The aim is to give a positive alternative to age‑based discrimination by maximizing our acknowledgement of human variation and by showing that there are many ways to `become human', some more and some less available to children.

The new direction that we lay out for the social study of childhood (and by implication the study of all human becoming) comes in the form of a call for an `immature' sociology. To call for immaturity is not to suggest that researchers should try to `see the world as children see it'. Instead it is to advance the view that sociologists of childhood should seek confidence and inspiration in the creative potential that comes with working in their relatively new field of social study, rather than seek to model their work on the problem space defined by `mainstream' sociology. It is, in other words, a call for the imagination and creativity needed to understand and to inter­vene in a world that is increasingly revealing itself as `unfinished', a world in which mediascapes and short‑term flexibilities of planning allow the imaginations of the powerful to be realized perhaps too rapidly. Thus the chapters in Part three may be read as an attempt to understand the relative speeds of change and modes of interaction of the imagination, the materials (bodily and inorganic) and the institutions that together comprise the social world. It is out of this vision of social inquiry that our redescription of `growing‑up' as `slowing‑down' evolved.

Why the Wild Things Are: Animals in the Lives of Children by Gail F. Melson (Harvard University Press) The study of children, suggests Purdue professor Melson, has tended to be anthropocentric, with the role of animals in childrens' lives ignored. Yet, as she amply demonstrates, young people often seem to have a closer relationship with their pets than they do with their parents. It is from animals, the author argues, that children first learn about love, loss, and loyalty; it is with animals that children learn how to nurture. Children, she suggests, may even understand animals better than they understand adult humans, since animals' behavior is simple and straightforward. It seems rather obvious that kids have a special bond with their pets, one that may never be re-created with a human, so it may come as a surprise to some readers just how unexplored this area of child development is. Those looking for a pop treatment of the topic may find Melson's rigorous study a bit tough going, but for anyone willing to work at it, this perceptive, groundbreaking account sheds valuable new light on a fascinating subject.

IN THE SWIM: poems and paintings by Douglas Florian (Harcourt Brace Childrens Books) 0-15-201307-5

IN THE WING: poems and paintings by Douglas Florian (Harcourt Brace Childrens Books) 0-15-200497-1



poems and paintings by Douglas Florian

Harcourt Brace Children’s Books

$15.00, hardcover, 48 pages, ages 4-8


The poetry is inventive and verbally playful while the colorful illustrations offer stylized, fanciful interpretations of the animals. Children will delight in the playful, witty language of Florian's 21 lively poems, as they learn about their ocean and freshwater friends, in this humorous companion to ON THE WING, winner of the 1995 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award,and BEAST FEAST. Full-color illustrations. 

The Camel

The camel's altogether scary
With features haggard, harsh, and hairy.
It has a long and crooked neck
And giant feet to help it trek
Across the hot, dry desert sands
And over Asian prairie lands.
Upon its back a hairy hump
Arises like a beastly bump.
But do not fear the dreary camel.
It’s not a monster— It’s a mammal.

THE OXFORD BOOK OF ANIMAL POEMS: Edited by Michael Harrison & Christopher Stuart-Clark (Oxford University Press) 0-19-276148-X


THE OXFORD BOOK OF ANIMAL POEMS combines the finest of verse with a survey of wildlife and human cultures of the earth. It begins with oceans-whales, dolphins, sharks, and then circles the world, pausing to visit a host of animals such as the ringneck parrots, the kangaroo, night herons, the meerkats of Africa, and so much more. Poets from a variety of continents are represented and each reveals much about the animals of their lands. A.B. Paterson writes of the Australian wombat, Weary Will. Hsu Pen describes the tigers of Asia. Traditional and contemporary African verses are included as well as European and American poets such as Ted Hughes, Carl Sandburg, William Butler Yeats, and Thomas Hardy. Specially commissioned illustrations by a number of notable artists bring to life the beauty and variety of all the world and its animals.

This finely designed book offers indexes of artist, authors, titles and first lines, and a special index of all the animals is included in the collection, making it a particularly useful tool for sharing and learning. As in most Oxford anthologies the literary merits of this volume is beyond dispute.


A Beginner’s Guide to the Martial Arts

by Louise Rafkin

Little, Brown and Company Books for Children and Young Adults

$12.95 paper, 144 pages, Age 8 and up, Grade 3 and up


Rafkin concentrates on the cultural context of the Martial Arts introducing children to the legends and biographies of significant masters. A fine book introducing the finer aspects of the sports involved.


Explore the World of Land Machines-- from Bikes to Bulldozers

Steve Parker

SuperSmart series

Candlewick Press

$11.99, hardcover, 24 pages, color illustrated, ages 4-8, quizzes and answers, index



This SuperSmart title offers a look at wheels, chariots, bicycles, motorcycles and engines, fuel and cars, off-road vehicles and tires, trucks, tractors, trains, and race cars.


The Handbook of Creative Discovery

by Ann Sayre Wiseman

Illustrated by the author

Little, Brown and Company Books for Children and Young Adults

$12.95 paper, 176 pages, All ages



125 projects are collected and illustrated by Ann Sayre Wiseman, a former program director of the Boston Children’s Museum visitors center. They are novel and inventive. The majority of the resourceful projects here are not found in other craft books , this book is an invaluable resource that should be on every home, school, day care center, library, and camp bookshelf. Parents and teachers will delight in this creative book. This popular manual offers simple but thorough directions for everything from making paper-bag puppets to decorating your own window shades. The activities emphasize learning by doing and encourage readers to use everyday objects in new ways. Simple instructions, clear diagrams, and appealing illustrations make these projects accessible.

With this book you can: Make a bird feeder out of clothes hangers; build a loom from popsicle sticks, create a mobile from drinking straws, finger-paint with chocolate pudding, bake "stained glass" cookies with lollipops, learn the fundamentals of printing, weaving, tie-dyeing, batik, paper making, sewing, and much more.


Exploring Science, Language, and Perception with Children

by Michael J. Strauss


$15.95, paper, 131 pages, illustrations, glossary, index



THE MAGICAL CLASSROOM provides easy to perform instructions to experiments and explanations of scientific facts that can show how to help children experience and describe the world, how to experiment and ask questions about it, and how to make decisions about what is true and what isn’t based on an analysis of their perceptions. The book will be useful to grade school teachers and parents who want to encourage scientific reasoning.

Imagine grabbing the attention of students by sticking a knitting needle through a balloon without popping it. Or bending a spoon completely in half with only the power of mind. They would think their teacher is a magician! They would want to know how you did it and would start asking questions to understand the strange phenomenon. Abracadabra! We have just actively engaged them in the process of scientific reasoning—close observation, questioning, hypothesizing, experimenting, and coming to a conclusion. We can also shown them how descriptive language can color what they see and don’t see.

THE MAGICAL CLASSROOM provides clear, step-by-step instructions on how to perform magical effects and illusions. It includes detailed drawings to illustrate the effects and explains scientific phenomena behind magic. The effects require only everyday materials . The book offers variations and further study of each phenomenon covers electrical forces, atmospheric pressure, solids, liquids, gases, mass, density, physical properties of giant molecules, and many other physical science topics.


Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Illustrated by Annika Nelson

Harcourt Brace Children’s Books

$15.00, hardcover, 40 pages, ages 4-8



A useful story in preparing a child for the death of a grandparent. It offers rich relationships and stories woven together through memory. The illustrations invoke Central European life earlier this century.


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